What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that a society creates and enforces to ensure a peaceful society. It covers an incredibly broad range of topics, from private and corporate law to civil rights, immigration and international law. There are numerous books and debates about what the law should be, and it is hard to provide a definitive answer. However, there are some key features that any law should have.

First, it should be objective, meaning that it does not discriminate between different groups of people or treat some members of a group as more important than others. It also should be impartial, ensuring that all are treated equally regardless of their wealth or status. Second, law should be clear and transparent, making it easy for citizens to understand. Thirdly, laws should be flexible, allowing the legal system to adjust to social change and new needs by way of interpretation and creative jurisprudence. Finally, laws should be enforceable, meaning that they can be used to punish those who break them.

Law encompasses a huge number of subjects, and the article structure is arranged to reflect that. It is split into three sections for convenience, although the subjects intertwine and overlap. Civil law deals with disputes between individuals, for example if two people have the same claim to property. Criminal law aims to punish those who commit crimes against the state, for example murder or theft.

Another area of law is the environment, where it includes issues such as air and water pollution, waste disposal and genetic modification. Other areas of law include human rights, where it involves the rights and freedoms of people in society; family law; contract law; and tort law.

In modern societies, most countries have codified laws that are based on common principles. They are a mixture of legislative statutes, which are created by the legislature, and judicial decisions, which are made by judges or barristers who apply the law to specific cases. The principle of stare decisis, whereby the decision of a higher court binds lower courts, is an important feature of law.

In the past, there were many less well-defined traditions of law, such as customary law or ancient Roman law. These did not meet the requirements of a modern legal system, but they were often seen as an essential precursor to the development of more formal law. The law cannot work unless it is backed up by certain practical features, such as the rule of law (whereby all laws are created equal) and the principle of equality of opportunity for all citizens. These goals are not easily achievable, but they are worth pursuing. The rule of law has been a longstanding ideal in Western political thought, starting with Aristotle and continuing through the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment.